Friday, November 21, 2008

Townsend's Solitaire

We have owned our Littleton, Colorado, farm since 1990 and, each winter, a Townsend's solitaire has taken up residence from November through March. Attracted by the large, prolific juniper trees, the solitaire is highly territorial, defending his supply of berries from other solitaires and, unsuccessfully, from the larger robins that also enjoy this bounty.

Townsend's solitaires are gray, streamlined thrushes with a prominent white eye ring and buff-colored wing patches; they are mid-sized between blue birds and robins. Throughout the warmer months, they inhabit coniferous forests of the foothills and mountains where they are usually seen alone, flycatching from a dead snag or treetop. Solitaires nest on the ground, choosing a protected site beneath a shrub, fallen tree or rock overhang; four eggs are typically produced and, as with most other thrushes, both parents tend to the nestlings.

As cold nights begin to eliminate their insect prey, these birds switch to a diet of juniper berries and many descend to lower elevations; the majority choose protected, foothill canyons while some, like our visitor, move onto the adjacent Piedmont; west of the Divide, many winter in desert regions of the Colorado Plateau or Great Basin. Occasionally, adventurous solitaires wander far to the east, turning up in the Great Lakes region or even in New England.